Agents from across the globe joined other specially invited guests for the christening of the largest ship in the world. Natasha Salmon reports from Florida
Michael Bayley: We will build new ships and they will come
The calibre of modern ships such as Harmony of the Seas is set to continue spurring growth in the UK market and attract first-time cruisers, according to Royal Caribbean’s Michael Bayley.
Speaking at the Oasis-class ship’s naming ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, president and chief executive Bayley said cruise was becoming harder to ignore as a holiday choice.
“There is a whole category of people who have a preconceived perception of cruising and a lot of the time it’s negative and then there’s a whole category of people who have never given cruising a second thought,” Bayley said.
“Part of our job is trying to explain to them what we offer, and in some cases, remove negative perception. These ships are packed with excitement, they’re perfect for families, perfect for multigenerational groups.
“The quality supersedes any hotel you can name on the planet at a reasonable price point. With quality of service, the variety of dining options, you get all of that while you’re travelling through the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, so it’s pretty good.”
Since 2014 Royal Caribbean has seen a 30% growth in guest numbers and despite expanding markets in Germany, the US and China, Bayley said the UK remained a priority source of customers.
“Of course new ships will mean new customers. The fact that we have got a lot of ships on order shows what we’re thinking. We’re bringing on a new large ship every year probably for the next decade, so we believe that we are going to have enough customers.
“The UK will always be in the top tier of markets in terms of relevancy and importance. We want that to keep growing too.”
Thousands of specially invited guests attended the inaugural sailing and naming of the 6,000-passenger ship, which was officially christened on November 10.
The ship’s godmother, Brittany Affolter, a 23-year-old school teacher from the Miami-Dade county, was picked for her work promoting education for young people in the state with Teach for America.
Affolter was delivered a button to press by a member of the ship’s aerial performance group, which released a giant bottle of champagne that smashed on the side of the ship.
The ceremony also featured blessings by a priest and a rabbi plus music from a Scottish bagpipe band and performances by the ships’ Aqualine, ice skating and Grease stage show casts.
Royal pushes fly-cruises to promote further UK growth
Royal Caribbean will place a renewed focus on fly-cruises for UK customers as it continues to work closely with the trade in 2017.
Stuart Leven, managing director for the UK and Ireland, said growth in the British market was not dependent on ships in Southampton.
“We are seeing a really quite fascinating trend of growth from the UK market for cruise but I don’t think they are getting on ships in Southampton.
“Our biggest goal is to grow our presence with the fly-cruise market down to Europe and the Mediterranean. People want sunshine and that extends to our cruises in the Caribbean too.
“We’ll also continue with our refurbished ships going to destinations such as Alaska and Dubai.”
This year is the first in 11 years that Royal Caribbean is not launching a ship, but sales director Ben Bouldin said this is not an issue for its sales team.
“Getting the right sales team in place doesn’t just happen over night, but now we have a team that we really believe can take us onwards and upwards.
“With new additions such as Adam Sharp [head of cruise specialists] joining existing team members, we have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“There is not another cruise line that has consistently worked with the trade for as long and loyally as we do. Eight out of 10 bookings are through the trade and the trade is at the forefront of what we do.”
Weir is first agent in the world to ride Ultimate Ayyss
Harmony of the Seas is home to the Ultimate Abyss – the tallest slide on a ship – and Travel Weekly winner Caroline Weir was the first agent in the world to plunge down it.
Weir, who works for Thomas Cook in Gateshead, won a competition at the Travel Weekly Globe Awards in January and as part of her prize she attended the naming ceremony with return business‑class flights to Miami.
She also won flights to Los Angeles with two nights’ accommodation, a visit to the set of Grease, and £500 spending money on a Club Royal loyalty card.
She said: “Getting to cruise and stay on Harmony in the Caribbean is fabulous, I absolutely love it.
“There is so much to see and do on board. It really makes the product come to life when you can experience it and I will absolutely do my best to paint a picture of how incredible it is for my customers.”
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